New York Yankees: 5 Lessons Learned from Their Opening Series vs. the Red Sox
The New York Yankees looked doomed in spring training, and their opening series against the Red Sox this week did not help silence any of their naysayers.
After losing the first two games by a combined nine runs, they were able to take the third game to avoid an embarrassing opening series sweep at home by their hated rivals from Boston. Despite recording a win in their most recent contest, many of the Yankees' preseason doubters seemed to be proven right over the course of the first three games.
Often times, too much can be made of the first week or two of the season and fans, players, coaches and writers can jump to very large conclusions based on an incredibly small sample size. However, often times, early season trends can be indicators for season-long issues. Can we take away any major lessons from this weeks' Yankees-Red Sox series?
CC Sabathia's Velocity Is a Major Concern
Since signing with the Yankees in the 2008-2009 offseason, CC Sabathia has been the model of consistency for New York. Year in and year out, he eats up innings and leads the Yankee rotation as their ace.
However, with only three pitches, Sabathia is somewhat reliant on his power fastball as a swing-and-miss pitch, and in the past two seasons, his velocity has noticeably declined.
According to FanGraphs, Sabathia's velocity on Opening Day topped out at 91.7 MPH, almost three full MPH lower than his 94.5 MPH high on Opening Day 2012.
Some will say that this is just a product of offseason surgery and that Sabathia could take longer to find his rhythm in 2013. FanGraphs thinks it is part of a bigger issue that will culminate in Sabathia's eventual decline.
With a multitude of data to back them up, FanGraphs argues that pitchers who lost over one full MPH from the previous year are 39 percent more likely to get injured and 91 percent more likely to spend time on the disabled list. Without Sabathia at full strength with his fastball present, the Yankees stand no chance of finishing with a winning record this season.
Scoring Runs Will Be Difficult
Last season, the Yankees averaged 4.96 runs per game, scoring 802 runs on the season. Over their first three games, they scored ten runs for an average of 3.33 runs per game. The 3.33 number over their first series this week should be much closer to their season average than last season's 4.96.
In their opening three games, they benefited from three Francisco Cervelli RBI, three Vernon Wells RBI, two Lyle Overbay RBI and one each from Brett Gardner and Travis Hafner. None of those players were expected to be major run producers going into this season, and they recorded zero RBI from Robinson Cano and Kevin Youkilis.
The Yankees will rely on surprise production from players like Wells and Hafner all season, which in all likelihood, will result in more disappointment and less scoring than fans in New York are used to.
If Healthy, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte Can Still Get It Done
The lone bright spots of the opening series for the Yankees were the play Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. Pettitte, known throughout his career as a stopper, got the job done again in game three.
Pettitte, at 40 years old, went eight innings, gave up one earned run, walked one and threw 94 pitches in a very economical outing to give the Yankees their first win of the season.
Despite giving up a run in his first regular season appearance since he tore his ACL, Mariano Rivera was still able to record the save. It took him a few hitters to get his rhythm back, but Rivera ended the game by making superstar prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. look foolish at a cutter on the outside corner.
Rivera and Pettitte still have enough left in the tank to be major contributors for the Yankees this season as long as they remain healthy.
The Injury Bug Is Still Biting the Yankees
Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, Phil Hughes and Alex Rodriguez started the season on the disabled list for the Yankees. CC Sabathia looks to still be affected by his injury, and even last year's first-round pick, Ty Hensley, will miss time due to surgery.
To add insult to injury (no pun intended), Hiroki Kuroda took a line drive off of his hand in the second inning of Tuesday's game, forcing him to leave.
The Yankees cannot afford anymore major injuries, but it seems as though the injury bug will not leave them alone.
In Order to Win, Robinson Cano Will Need to Have Another MVP-Caliber Year
For the Yankees to stand any chance of making the postseason in 2013, it will be because Robinson Cano willed them there with his bat and glove. Cano is an elite fielder, winning the Gold Glove award in 2010 and 2012, and he is also one of the best hitters in the game.
A career .308 hitter, he hit a career high 33 home runs last season. Cano will need to be an elite run producer, hitting over 30 home runs and driving in 100-120 runs in the middle of the order for the Yankees to make up for injuries and deficiencies across the lineup.
Without Cano producing day in and day out at an MVP level, there will not be enough consistent run production for the Yankees to make any noise come September and October.